A vote for the World’s health, absent from the headlines

Vote FCGHA vote for the world’s health, absent from the headlines

10 November 2016

The World Health Organization process of selecting a new director-general moves into high gear this week. As the U.S. presidential election has held global attention for much of 2016, this is likely the most important vote the world isn’t watching. We cannot afford to ignore the WHO leadership choice, which comes in the midst of a global health crisis.

That crisis is the ongoing epidemic of health inequalities. It is an emergency that lurks beneath the headlines, existing instead in the daily realities of vast portions of the world’s population. We come from two countries, South Africa and Bangladesh, where our governments and civil society are making tremendous efforts to improve the health of our people. We have seen important strides, including scaling up HIV/AIDS treatment in South Africa and unprecedented progress in child and maternal health in Bangladesh.

Yet we continue to see snapshots of huge global inequalities of health on a regular basis. In a sprawling township outside Cape Town, many residents live in wood, tin, and plastic shacks, with toilets far and few between. The latrines are often unusable and, even when functioning, unsafe for women and children to access. In isolated parts of Bangladesh, meanwhile, it is still not unusual for a woman to give birth on the dirt floor of her own home without any trained personnel present.

Read moreA vote for the World’s health, absent from the headlines

WHO DG’s highest priority: a Global Treaty on the Right to Health

PriorityThe next WHO Director-General’s highest priority: a Global Treaty on the Human Right to Health

(From The Lancet, 13.10.2016)   The next WHO Director-General faces major challenges:1 operational responsibilities for epidemic response, universal health coverage (UHC), and the rise of non- communicable diseases. Given the vast gap between daunting health challenges and WHO funding, what should be the Director-General’s foremost priority? The answer lies in the organisation’s main constitutional pillar, the right of everyone to the highest attainable standard of health. WHO’s next leader should bring human rights to the forefront, ensuring the universal right to health.

A Framework Convention on Global Health (FCGH)2— supported by civil society and global leaders3—should become the centrepiece of this endeavour (panel). It would reform global governance for health to enhance accountability, transparency, and civil society participation and protect the right to health in trade, investment, climate change, and other international regimes, while catalysing governments to institutionalise the right to health at community through to national levels. It would usher in a new era of global health with justice—vast improvements in health outcomes, equitably distributed.4

National and global systems today suffer from pervasive structural deficiencies, making them incapable of achieving global health with justice. These structures enable inequities to persist, fail to ensure accountability, and permit health and non-health sectors to undermine the right to health.

Vast disparities in wealth and political power leave countries and marginalised populations with far worse health outcomes than in wealthier states and among well-off populations. Income inequality and global threats (eg, climate change, mass migrations) risk worsening disparities. Legal frameworks and social practices perpetuate marginalisation of women, immigrants, indigenous people, and ethnic and sexual minorities. Yet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) do not adequately prioritise marginalised populations. WHO’s new Framework of Engagement with Non-State Actors5 fails to empower civil society to effectively participate in the organisation’s governance.

Read moreWHO DG’s highest priority: a Global Treaty on the Right to Health

Dear Director-General Dr. Tedros

Dear Dr. TedrosDear Director-General Dr. Tedros,

September 6, 2017
Congratulations on your appointment as the new WHO Director-General. We recognize the mighty responsibility of your office, with its tremendous potential for bringing better health to the world’s people – and above all, to the poor, marginalized, and discriminated against, to whom you have long voiced your commitment. We were heartened to hear you state so powerfully upon your appointment that WHO must “put the right to health at the core of its functions, and be the global vanguard to champion them.”

One powerful tool to do just that is a proposed Framework Convention on Global Health (FCGH), which would be a global treaty based on the right to health and aimed at national and global health equity. It could help put the right to health not only at the core of WHO’s functions, but also at the core of the global policy agenda, with WHO in the lead. The treaty would contribute to priorities that you have articulated in your vision for WHO, including universal health coverage, the rights of women and other marginalized populations, the Sustainable Development Goals, and health emergencies, along with a reinvigorated WHO (please see the Annex).

Read moreDear Director-General Dr. Tedros